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July 19th, 2018:

Two views of Democratic fundraising

Positive:

For the first time in a generation, there is a Democrat running for Congress in every single district in the state.

Most of those candidates vying to unseat Republicans will likely lose. Many are running in districts where President Donald Trump and the GOP incumbent won by double digits in 2016. But campaign finance reports show that a significant number of these Democrats are running professional campaigns, hiring staff and making their presence known in their communities.

And in this effort, they are bringing big money into the state.

Back in 2016, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates raised an aggregate sum of $32.3 million at this point in the cycle, nearly three times as much as Texas U.S. House Democratic candidates, who raised $11.4 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of campaign finance reports.

Two years later, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates have raised an aggregate sum of $34.8 million so far this cycle, similar to where they were in 2016. Democrats in Texas meanwhile, have nearly doubled their haul, having raised $21.8 million.

These figures do not reflect the more than $30 million raised so far in the state’s high profile race for U.S. Senate between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

And negative:

Four years ago, Wendy Davis was touring Texas like a rock star as she ran for governor. Sporting the same pink Mizuno sneakers she wore for her famous filibuster against a bill to restrict abortions, she was greeted by 1,600 cheering fans here, many of them wearing “Turn Texas Blue” T-shirts.

She had more than $10 million in the bank of the $37 million she would raise in her bid to become the first Democrat elected to statewide office in Texas in 20 years.

Now, as former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez runs for the same office against Gov. Greg Abbott — who beat Davis by more than 20 percentage points — the crowds have often been scant. Valdez’s statewide name ID remains slim. Her bank account has been skinnier than a coyote in the desert.

Nevertheless, Democratic Party insiders expressed little concern as Valdez on Tuesday reported raising $742,250 in political contributions in the past seven months. As of June 30, she had $222,050 in the bank.

Instead of trying to build Valdez vs. Abbott into a marquee race, Democrats are focusing much of their attention — and campaign cash — on down-ballot and congressional races that have drawn a record number of candidates.

They’re hoping for what they call the reverse coattails effect — essentially they’re banking on well-funded Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and the Democrats running for Congress, state and local office to help generate turnout for statewide candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, instead of the other way around.

[…]

“Wendy (Davis) inspired optimism and enthusiasm, and she raised enough money to mount a top-flight campaign,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who analyzed the 2014 race and has been watching Valdez’s sputtering campaign — now at its halfway point approaching the November general election.

“This campaign is an embarrassment to everyone involved — Lupe Valdez, the Democratic Party, even Greg Abbott. At this point, I don’t think anyone could imagine Lupe Valdez as governor. You can’t create an alternate universe where she could win.”

But Jerry Polinard, a longtime political scientist at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, said the party’s strategy could pay dividends in the future “if they’re successful in some of their down-ballot races. That could lay a groundwork for the future.”

If not, “that’ll be the party’s next big problem,” he said. “I’ve never seen a year like this in Texas at the top of the state ballot.”

I think you know where I stand on this. I’ll say again, Beto O’Rourke has raised a lot more money by this point than Davis did, and as we well know the Congressional challengers are orders of magnitude ahead of where they were in 2014. Yes, it would be nice if Lupe Valdez and Mike Collier could stay within the same zip code as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. But expand your field of vision a little, all right?

Santa Fe ISD to install metal detectors

If that’s what they want

Metal detectors will be installed in all four of Santa Fe ISD’s campuses after its Board of Trustees voted to accept at least 16 devices that had been donated by two private companies and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The 4-2 vote came after weeks of contentious debate that divided the small northern Galveston County community in the wake of the latest mass school shooting, in which a 17-year-old gunman killed 10 and wounded 13 at Santa Fe High School on May 18. Trustees Patrick Kelly and Eric Davenport voted against the item.

The school board meeting agenda said the number of detectors to be installed would not be known until security companies do an assessment of the district’s high school, junior high and two elementary schools. The high school is scheduled to be assessed for the detectors this week.

[…]

Details about who will operate the detectors and how the school entry process will work are also being finalized. Officials did note that elementary school students would not be subject to metal detector scans or bag searches, but visitors to the district’s two elementary campuses would be.

Questions about metal detectors’ effectiveness and cost roiled parents and community members across Santa Fe.

See here and here for some background, and here for an earlier Chron story about the heated debate within Santa Fe over this. I’m sure you can tell that I am deeply skeptical about this; in the words of Bruce Schneier, this has security theater written all over it. But it’s their decision, and if that makes them feel safer, then it’s not really my business.

The power to pay more for electricity

Deregulation really does create jobs.

When Texas deregulated electricity markets 16 years ago, the Public Utility Commission created the website Power to Choose to help consumers through the power buying experience. But what was promoted as an easy, free way for Texans to pick electricity providers has turned into a such a complex and confounding experience that it is spawning a cottage industry to help consumers navigate the scores of companies and hundreds of plans available.

At least five companies in Texas are providing both free and paid services aimed at helping consumers in Houston and other deregulated markets decipher confusing electricity offers such as free nights and weekends, multi-tiered pricing plans, and credits for high electricity use.

The companies have built computer algorithms that try to ferret out the best deals based on factors such as past electricity consumption, home size, and the number of people living there. In some cases, it’s just a matter of plugging in your monthly electricity into a website calculator. Others provide more comprehensive services, charging a monthly fee to advise customers which plan will save them the most money and then monitor the market so if prices fall, consumers can switch.

This kind of hand-holding is akin to car buying services, which save customers the time, energy and aggravation researching models, doing comparison shopping and negotiating prices. But unlike cars, there’s no difference in the electricity provided by different retailers, making the emergence of these power buying services a sure sign of the complexity of the system.

“The third party guys demonstrate the consumer is getting ripped off by the Power to Choose artificial configuration that the Public Utility Commission has rammed down the throat of Texas consumers,” said Ed Hirs, energy economist at the University of Houston.

The Public Utility Commission recently recognized the shortcomings of Power to Choose, with chairman DeAnn Walker criticizing retail electric providers for misleading pricing plans. Those plans offer rock-bottom rates at 1,000 kilowatt hours, but if consumers use just one kilowatt hour more, the price per kilowatt hour can jump as much as 10 times.

[…]

Jesson Bradshaw, a power industry veteran, saw an opportunity when his friends and family asked him which company they should sign up with for electricity. He sent them to Power to Choose, but he quickly heard complaints.

“I saw how confusing it was,” said Bradshaw, who worked as a power trader and owned the retail power company Amigo Energy until he sold it to Just Energy in 2011.

Four years ago, he and a partner launched the buying service Energy Ogre. The company charges customers $10 each month to find the lowest price plan and monitor rates to see if it makes sense to switch mid-contract. It doesn’t take commissions from power providers.

Bradshaw said his business is not exactly popular among the retail providers, many of which bet that customers won’t shop for better rates when contracts expire.

“They don’t like us informing the customer,” he said. “ If there is a better rate, we move them. We don’t care which provider.”

Mark Axford of Sugar Land signed up with Energy Ogre about three years ago. Axford said the company switches electricity providers at least once a year and makes sure Axford and his wife do not get hit with penalties. The monthly fee is well worth it, he said.

If you want to save, you have to shop, said Axford. “But who has the time to keep shopping for electricity?”

The trade association for retail electricity providers in Texas said it recognizes that the buying services may help customers sort through offers. But it’s important to note, said Julia Rathgeber, president of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, that these companies are not subject to oversight by the Public Utility Commission. It’s still up to consumers to decide whether plans are right for them, she said.

Got that? If you’re paying too much for electricity, it’s your own damn fault. Never mind how confusing or time consuming the shopping process is. There’s no reason I can think of why the state couldn’t provide, for free, the kind of easy, at-your-fingertips information that these entrepreneurs have done. Why wouldn’t we want to do that, if the goal of deregulation was to lower prices for consumers? The answer to that is left as an exercise for the reader. In the meantime, here’s the sidebar that tells you how to find the best deal for yourself:

MORE INFORMATION
Companies that help consumers find the best power deals:

Texas Power Guide

Website: TexasPowerGuide.com

Awesome Power Texas

Website: AwesomePowerTexas.com

Geek Your Rate

Website: GeekYourRate.com

Energy Ogre

Website: EnergyOgre.com

Real Simple Energy

Website: RealSimpleEnergy.com

You might also want to go back and look at some guest posts my friend Dan Wallach wrote about picking power plans. Good luck.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 16

The Texas Progressive Alliance is old enough to remember a time when Republicans thought cozying up to Russia was a bad idea as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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